National Courage Award Four others receive Jay and Rose Phillips Awards
Courage Center presented U.S. Rep. Jim Ramstad with its National Courage Award at its annual Medtronic Celebration of Courage Gala at The Depot in Minneapolis on September 13. The national award recognizes an individual’s contributions to the health, welfare and rehabilitation of people with disabilities.
“Issues facing the disability community have been a long-standing key policy area for Jim Ramstad,” said Courage Center CEO Jan Malcolm. “We are thrilled to recognize and honor Congressman Ramstad’s bi-partisan leadership in this area.”
As a Minnesota state legislator, Ramstad sponsored funding for a pilot program that eventually became Metro Mobility service. He was also the sponsor and legislative champion for Minnesota’s in-home personal care assistant program, which gave every qualifying person with a disability the right to in-home care under the state’s Medicaid program. This made Minnesota one of the first states to make such a program entitlement.
In 1999, as a representative for Minnesota’s Third District, he co-sponsored the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act, the last major federal law to pass benefiting people with disabilities. This act gives people searching for employment more control in choosing where they can go for assistance. It also expanded access to Medicare, even in the event of a job loss. For millions of Americans with disabilities, lack of adequate health insurance coverage remains a significant barrier to employment.
Ramstad also cosponsored, along with the late Senator Paul Wellstone, the Mental Health Parity Act. He continues to work on the bill’s passage. The bill would require most group health plans to provide coverage for treatment of mental illnesses, comparable to what they provide for physical illnesses.
“Time and again Congressman Ramstad has reached across the aisle to work on behalf of Americans looking to gain greater independence and participate fully in life. His passionate and tireless work has made Minnesota a leader in the areas of access and mental health reform. We are grateful for his friendship and leadership,” said Malcolm.
The celebration also included honoring people with Phillips Awards, presented each year by Courage Center to people with disabilities who have achieved outstanding vocational and community success. New this year was the Caregiver Award, which acknowledges and honors a behind-the-scenes caregiver vital to the success of a person with a disability.
Phillips Caregiver Award was presented to:
Greg Salyers, Minneapolis
For Greg Salyers, caring for Steve Erickson wasn’t simply a job. It became part of his life and flourished into a deep and rich friendship. According to Steve’s sister Tracy Anderson, “The day Steve was paralyzed was heart-breaking, but without the care and friendship of Greg Salyers… Steve’s life could have been very tragic. Steve survived the first three years after his accident. Steve LIVED the last 15 years with Greg’s help.” Others who witnessed their partnership say that Erickson and Salyers “brought out the best in each other. They were so well-known together that you never saw Greg without Steve. They became such a team that you knew if Greg was around, Steve was with him.” Said another: “Once in a while you see people that have careers that are in total ‘flow’ with their natural gifts. Greg is such a person… He provided hope, belief and created a ‘normal’ life for Steve. I will forever be grateful for Greg’s presence in Steve’s life.”
Sadly, Erickson wasn’t on hand to witness Salyers’ award. On March 1, 2008, at age 44, he suddenly and peacefully passed away in his sleep.
Salyers lives in Minneapolis.
Phillips Employment Awards were presented to:
Eric Rasmussen, Waterloo, Iowa, Self-employed, Valley Orthopedic Sales
Being a self-employed salesman isn’t the easiest way to make a living. It’s even more of a challenge when you’re dealing with a disability like Limb-Girdle Muscular Dystrophy (MD). But that’s just what Eric Rasmussen does. A 1989 Health Studies graduate of Kirkwood Community College, Rasmussen worked as an orthopedic physician assistant from 1989 to 2005. At the age of 34, he was diagnosed with MD. As the physical demands of his job became too challenging, he transitioned into medical sales. According to his nomination, “Eric shows people on a daily basis that his disability will not stand in his way of working or living his life to the fullest.” In addition to his job, Rasmussen is a key leader in the group ministry program at Cedar Valley Community Church. Rasmussen and his wife Lori live in Waterloo with their daughters, Kelsey, 11, and Makayla, 7.
James Mastro, Ph.D., Bemidji, Professor, physical education professor, Bemidji State University
Mastro lost his vision while in high school, but hasn’t let that stop him from accumulating an impressive teaching, coaching and athletic resume. He was the first person in the nation with a visual impairment to earn a Ph.D. in physical education. He is author or coauthor of 53 articles and has made 31 national and international presentations on adapted physical education. Mastro competed in seven Para-lympics, medaling in four different sports and earning 10 medals. He was an alternate in Greco Roman wrestling for the 1976 Olympics. He recently received the Medal of Courage from the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. He is founder and director of the Northern Plains Visions of Sport Camp, which serves students with visual impairments. Mastro has coached wrestling and judo for a variety of schools and camps. Currently he is a board member of the US Association of Blind Athletes and National Beep Baseball Association. He is also faculty advisor to the Bemidji Judo Club. Mastro’s family includes his wife Cheryl, daughter Amber and son Paul.
[Editor’s Note The following is (humbly) reprinted from the award citation.]
Tim Benjamin, St. Paul, editor and executive director, Access Press
Tim Benjamin has been editor and executive director of Access Press, a monthly newspaper dedicated to issues of importance to Minnesota’s disability community. He is a role model, leader and advocate for people with disabilities. Benjamin serves or has served on a number of boards and committees, including the St. Paul Mayor’s Committee on People with Disabilities, the Qwest Consumer Advisory Panel, and the board of Access for All and the AXIS Healthcare Advisory Board. For two consecutive terms he served as the chairperson of the Metropolitan Center for Independent Living. Benjamin is active in the Minnesota Consortium of Citizens with Disabilities (MN-CCD) and is a member of the Minnesota Business Leadership Network, an employer organization with a commitment to hiring people with disabilities. A 1974 diving accident left Benjamin a quadriplegic. Benjamin, his wife Lynda and their dog, Feivel, live in St. Paul’s Como Park neighborhood.